I am a victim of sexual assault.
Seeing those words on the screen of my laptop still causes my hands to tremble and it’s been over 30 years since my innocence was taken. It’s the height of irony that a person widely known for sharing virtually every aspect of his life on the radio has managed to keep this one secret buried so deep.
This might be the point where you ask me why I haven’t come forward sooner. It’s a question I heard the President of the United States ask over the last week with regard to a woman that has accused a Supreme Court nominee of sexually assaulting her while the two were still in high school. But this isn’t a political opinion piece. The opinion shared by the President is one that I have heard echoed throughout the years whenever a prominent sexual abuse/assault case comes forward after being kept secret for such a long period of time.
Let me start at the beginning. Over 33 years ago I was molested by a person familiar to my family. I wasn’t restrained or held against my will. I wouldn’t even say that I was forced against my will. But I was coerced into performing a sexual act with a male much older than I was when I was just a boy who couldn’t possibly understand what I was doing. I was deceived. I didn’t know any better and I went along with this man’s devious plot. It only happened one time. But that one incident is an albatross that’s been around my neck for the last 30-plus years.
Over 20 years ago, I was engaged to a woman named Victoria. During a conversation one night, I broke down in tears while telling her of the abuse I suffered at the hands of a man familiar to my family. It was the first time I had told anyone what had happened to me over a decade earlier. There I was, sobbing like a little boy. I had been brought back to that day and that moment where this young man had violated me. In the days that followed, I would share my story with a select few people in my family. I chose to protect my parents from this awful experience. The way I viewed it, there was nothing they could do for me now. I was an adult and I was out on my own.
But it was more complicated than that. Many will ask why I am being vague in describing my abuser. Why have I gone the route of keeping him nameless? The reasoning on my end is simple. The number of lives that would be destroyed by this revelation is too large for me to bear. It isn’t just this man’s life that would be ruined. It would be the lives of his family and extended family. I wouldn’t be able to live with that consequences for the sake of outing this person that so badly damaged my life. Why should his family have to suffer for his selfishness? For as many times in my life as I have lacked the discipline to hold back, this is the one instance where I still have the ability to do so. A select few people know who my attacker is. I have asked them to keep my secret. Hopefully, they will honor that request.
Over the last decade, I thought of sharing my story publicly. I thought of outing my abuser. I thought of writing to him to tell him all the pain he had caused me throughout the course of my life because of one selfish decision he made so many years ago. But for all the times I considered coming forward with my experience, I ultimately opted for the choice of silence. Might I confront the man who did this to me at some point? Perhaps. There is no statute of limitations that restricts me from talking to the police tomorrow if I wanted to. But again, at what cost would that action come? Right now, just one life has been forever altered by this experience. Why have more that are so adversely burdened because of one person’s actions? Still, it is something I consider every now and then.
7 years ago I heard the story of Jerry Sandusky molesting boys in showers while a coach at Penn State University. It made me physically nauseous. I would go on the radio and discuss the story with my audience. And each time I shared the story, it was like recounting my own sexual assault to an audience of tens of thousands. The pain was unbearable. I remember breaking down in tears to my partner and telling him of the pain I was in. But what could I do? There never felt like a proper time to share this experience with anybody outside of a handful of people.
When people ask why somebody doesn’t come forward, it shows a lack of understanding towards those who have endured something so incomprehensible. How many people can even go to that dark place? And if you haven’t been in there, a proper perspective is impossible to come up with. Who would have believed me as a young boy if I had spoken up and said this person forced me to do something that I really didn’t want to do? As I started to get older, I wondered if perhaps I had wanted it to happen. Maybe it was my fault? Heck, I figured out that I was gay when I was 23, after years of dating women and even getting engaged to one. Maybe this experience I had as a child was just a part of my “sexual discovery”. So many potential rationalizations. Join them up with the reasons listed in the paragraphs before and it gave me so many reasons not to speak up.
So why speak out now? Again, the answer is simple. I either start unloading some of this experience in the present or risk self-destructing in the very near future. I can feel myself coming apart at the seams as the chorus of the #MeToo Movement grows louder each day. While that movement addresses sexual harassment and assault related to the workplace, I feel a kinship with those who have openly shared their experiences of sexual trauma at the hands of somebody in a position of power or authority. My assault didn’t come in the workplace. But it still came at the hands of somebody who should have known better. It came at the hands of somebody who took advantage of his position as somebody who was older than me.
Another reason I’m speaking out now is guilt. As we grow older, we expand upon the simplistic ways in which we process traumatic incidents in our lives. I certainly know that my thoughts crystalized a bit more as I processed what took place on that day so many years ago. I constantly came back to one thought that still haunts me now. Did my silence enable my abuser to do others, what he had done to me? What are the chances that I was the only boy who this man violated? Did he do it to others? I’ll probably never know.
I’m not here to allege that I was sexually assaulted as a young boy. I’m here to tell you that I was sexually assaulted as a young boy. It isn’t imagined. I’m not mistaken as to who perpetrated this crime upon me. While I don’t remember the exact day on the calendar (in terms of when this took place), I can walk you to the spot where it happened. I remember the violation that vividly. Its mark has been burned indelibly into my being. It will never disappear.
Let me finish with a message to the man who has caused me this great pain. If my accuser should happen to read this, I want him to know something. You took something from me that I will never be able to have back. You stole my innocence. Beyond that, you’ve stolen over 33 years of my life in some way, shape or form by forcing me to relive my trauma again and again. I hope that in telling this story I can start to reclaim some of what has been lost at your hands and actions. I am a survivor of sexual assault. My wounds run deep. Rather than question why I’ve chosen to remain silent for so long, instead ask yourself what is occurring in our society that forces one to stay silent for such an interminable period.